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Pay attention if you ever find yourself thinking, "I could tell my secret right now...I really could...maybe I will..." You may feel ambivalent, your heart fluttering like a nervous moth as the yearning to create a truthful connection battles your fear of exposure. At such times, trust yearning over fear. Your intuition, which is far wiser than any set of rules I could devise, is telling you to take the risk. If you resist it, you'll experience the psychological equivalent of long-term nausea, becoming more and more miserable until the pain of hiding the truth finally becomes worse than the pain of barfing it up. You're approaching this point when:
  1. You sense a deep chasm between you and people you love.
  2. Your feelings for significant others have flattened as you disengaged to avoid telling the truth.
  3. You feel your secret as a literal weight, dragging you downward.
  4. You're filled with anger and/or hopelessness when you think about your secret.
  5. The secret haunts you, intruding on your thoughts and poisoning pleasure.
  6. You argue about almost anything, creating conflicts that are never resolved (because you aren't discussing the real issue).
  7. You compulsively talk around the subject that's bothering you, without confessing (an alcoholic may talk endlessly about drinking, all the time denying that he or she has a drinking problem).
  8. You find yourself confessing to random people (bartenders, new acquaintances, colleagues) while lying to your loved ones.

If you're experiencing these symptoms, you may find yourself confessing inappropriate things to inappropriate people at inappropriate times. We've all met members of the Too Much Information Club, who chat tipsily at cocktail parties about their marital woes, their potty-training memories or their habit of excessive masturbation.

Fighting to keep secrets that wish to be told often leads to such badly timed revelations, which are unfulfilling at best, hideously embarrassing at worst. Telling when your heart tells you to is the way to avoid this dysfunctional pattern.

Confession is risky. Some people really may reject you if you claim your whole identity and tell your whole story. But explicitly losing these people is no more horrible than keeping them—sort of—at the cost of your integrity. Besides, there are probably far fewer of them than you think. Contrary to popular belief, love is not blind. It has very sharp eyesight indeed, and most of the people who love you aren't fooled by whatever masks you wear. They sense when you hide things from them, and become frustrated by their inability to connect. By giving the people you care about the chance to love you as you are, everyone will benefit.

Perhaps our secrets struggle to be revealed because they know that confession can perform a miracle: It can make dark secrets bright. It can turn our worst mistakes or tragedies into beacons of hope for others. Think about it: When you're most trapped by secrecy, you don't want the advice of people who have never been touched by evil, despair or confusion. You want someone who has been where you are and made it back alive. That's why a confession you make merely to illuminate the murky corners of your little life may end up lighting the path to freedom for a thousand other hearts.

From the June 2002 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.

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